Keeping the Word

Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29


Good morning! I had a wonderful week of study leave in sunny Minneapolis. No, seriously, the weather was perfect almost every day. It was cold and rainy on the day I left, but every other day was in the 70s and sunny. I think the weather was nicer in Minnesota than in New Jersey that week.

Anyhow, it was a great time of learning and talking; it was a time for study and renewal, and I’m excited to be back in the pulpit. I love to travel, but I also love to sleep in my own bed. The purpose of the study leave is for me to recharge my batteries and get energized. I was fed at the conference, in profound ways. Now it’s time for me to give back; to feed you as I have been feed. I went to the Festival of Homiletics to learn; I came back so I could teach.

Speaking of teaching, today we are going to recognize our Sunday School teachers and all the wonderful work they do on behalf of the young people in this congregation. Our lesson from the Gospel of John is a perfect text for this occasion. It really points to the work that Beth and Judi and Sam and Beth do every Sunday morning.

In this text, Jesus is speaking to the disciples. This story takes place right after the Last Supper and scholars refer to this section of John’s Gospel as the Farewell Discourse. Jesus is giving the disciples one last lesson before he is arrested and crucified. He’s trying to equip them for their life and ministry after the human Jesus has left the world. This is no small task.

In Jesus, the disciples had a direct relationship with God, in the flesh. Through Jesus, God could be known and seen and touched; God is made known to humanity through this physical presence. In the Farewell Discourse, Jesus tells the disciples that he’s about to leave. For good. They don’t know how they’re going to live without his presence in their lives or continue Jesus’ work in the world.

But Jesus tells the disciples is that they will remain in relationship with him, even after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. The relationship will remain—Jesus will abide in each one of them, dwell in each one of them, and they in him, through the Holy Spirit. In Greek, this is called the parakletos or Advocate, who will equip them to continue Jesus’ work in the world. They will do this in the spirit of love and peace, which Jesus has given to each of them.

It seems to me that this is kind of what our Sunday school teachers do. They prepare our young people to be in a relationship with Jesus—even though none of them have ever known the human Jesus. We spend a lot of time planning lessons and reviewing curriculum, and those are all good. Preparation is always a good thing. But what matters most is the love.

This began to dawn on me when I was in seminary. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t know the Bible well enough. It seemed like all of my seminary classmates knew the Bible soooooo much better than I did. Being an only child, I wondered if maybe this was someone else’s fault. I wondered if maybe my Sunday school teachers had dropped the ball somewhere along the way.

If you’re not an only child, then you can probably spot the flaws in my logic. Sunday school teachers can only do so much. Like many young people, I drifted away from church when I went off to college and it took at least ten or twelve years for me to drift back into church. Of course, I forgot a lot of what I learned!

But it didn’t occur to me until I was in seminary that learning about the Bible is only one of several things that goes on in Sunday school. And learning Bible content is hardly the most important thing that happens in Sunday school. No. Teaching God’s love is what’s most important. Our teachers do an excellent job of teaching God’s love.

First and foremost, they do this simply by loving the children they teach. They model the greatest and most important commandments: love God and love one another. This is so much more important than teaching Bible trivia. Our teachers know our young people; they build relationships with them. Through those relationships, they can use Bible stories to explain God’s love for the world and even how to navigate through the troubled waters of our society.

This is so very important because we live in a world that teaches us conditional value. Our world teaches that you are only valuable if you satisfy certain conditions: